NEAC Distinguished Speakers Bureau — Korea Speakers

Ji-Hyun Ahn

August 26, 2020-August 25, 2023
Available for live virtual events

Ji-Hyun Ahn is Associate Professor of Communication at the University of Washington Tacoma. She received her M.A. from the Graduate School of Communication & Arts at Yonsei University (South Korea) and Ph.D. from the Department of Radio-Television-Film at the University of Texas at Austin (U.S.A.). She specializes in media globalization, Korean television and popular culture, Asian multiculturalism, and critical mixed-race studies. She is particularly interested in examining how media practices have facilitated the re-imagination of national identity from a global media perspective. Her first book, Mixed-Race Politics and Neoliberal Multiculturalism in South Korean Media (2018), studied how the increase of visual representation of mixed-race Koreans formulates a particular racial project in contemporary South Korean media. She is currently working on a new research project that explores anti-Korean sentiment and the rise of new nationalism in postcolonial East Asia. She won several Top Paper Awards for her work and has published numerous book chapters and articles in peer-reviewed journals including Media, Culture & Society, Cultural Studies, International Communication Gazette, and the Asian Journal of Social Science.

Presentations offered by Professor Ahn:

Watching Race: Mixed-Race Koreans and Multiculturalism in Contemporary South Korean TV

South Korea has long been considered as one of the most racially homogenous countries due to its strong myth of being a “single-ethnic nation.” Yet this well-known myth no longer seems to hold the same weight as in the past because Korea’s foreign population has experienced significant growth due to substantial global migration. Accordingly, the number of children born of unions between a Korean parent and a non-Korean parent is increasing, challenging the idea of monoracial/ethnic Korea. Considering televisual culture as a space where the practice of seeing race takes place and where the meaning of being Korean is contested, this lecture explores televised racial moments that demonstrate particular ways of re-imagining of what it means to be Korean in the contemporary era of globalization. Specifically, the lecture examines visual representations of symbolic biracial Korean figures and discusses how they produce critical conjunctures of race, skin color, blood ties, gender, class, nationality/citizenship, and colonial history to challenge the hegemonic notion of Korea as racially homogenous. The lecture provides an opportunity to discuss the ongoing struggle over racial reconfiguration in Korean popular media.

Anti-Korean Sentiment and (Online) Hate Culture in East Asia

China, Japan, and Taiwan are arguably the most lucrative markets for Korean media and popular culture, but these nations are also home to emerging anti-Korean movements. These anti-Korean movements are diverse in terms of medium (taking place both online and off), participants (spanning the range of youth familiar with digital media culture), and the subject of protest (some movements protest Korean residents, others Korea’s cultural threat, and yet others organize around international disputes with the Korean state). This (new) aversion to South Korea is rooted in the region’s colonial history combined with Korea’s recently changed status on the global cultural map from a peripheral nation to a pseudo-empire. The lecture explores what social conditions support the rise of anti-Korean sentiment across East Asia today. More specifically, the lecture examines how anti-Korean rhetoric and hate speech is created and circulated in online and offline spaces and how it is politicized to channel national antagonism in East Asia. The lecture also discusses individuals’ collaborative efforts to combat racism and hate speech in the region.

What does the “K” Stand for in K-pop?: Deconstructing Koreanness in K-pop

With no doubt, K-pop refers to Korean popular music. But what does the “K” mean in K-pop? With increasing numbers of non-Korean members in K-pop groups, K-pop as a music genre, cultural product and system has become increasingly more transnational and hybrid than ever before. Indeed, recruiting multinational trainees and having non-Korean members when creating a K-pop idol group has been a proven strategy for K-pop entertainment agencies to appeal to different regions of the global market. There even have been some intriguing experiments to create a K-pop group with the majority of its members being non-Korean/Asian, although these attempts interestingly (and maybe predictably) faced huge backlash from K-pop fan communities. Engaging with the controversy over the aforementioned cases, this lecture questions what constitutes K-pop and discusses what is specifically Korean about K-pop. The lecture first introduces various ways in which we understand K-pop and then discusses K-pop’s racial imagination by looking at fans’ reaction to and discourse around K-pop groups without Korean members. In doing so, the lecture addresses how the boundary of K-pop is made and re-made.

Juhn Y. Ahn

April 1, 2020-March 31, 2023
Available for live virtual events

Juhn Y. Ahn is Associate Professor of Buddhist and Korean Studies at the University of Michigan and the author of Buddhas and Ancestors: Religion and Wealth in Fourteenth-Century Korea (University of Washington Press, 2018). His publications also include Transgression in Korea: Beyond Resistance and Control (University of Michigan Press, 2018) and Gongan Collections I, Collected Works of Korean Buddhism, Vol. 7-1 (Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism, 2012). His research on Korean history, Buddhism, and medicine appeared in the Japanese Journal of Religious Studies, Journal of Chinese Religions, Seoul Journal of Korean Studies, and The Oxford Handbook of Meditation. His current research focuses on the economic history of Korea during the Koryŏ period (918-1392), reading practices in Song-dynasty (960-1279) Chan Buddhism, and the cultural history of weather and wealth during the Chosŏn period (1392-1910) in Korea.

Presentations offered by Professor Ahn:

Heavier Than Chains: A Very Brief Economic History of Slavery in Korea

There has been much debate about the nature and history of slavery in premodern Korea. Pointing to the unmistakably large number of people who lived as “slaves” (no and bi) in Korea for the last few hundred years before the colonial period, some claim that Korea was an oppressive slave society. Others argue that the reality of slavery in premodern Korea was far too complex and context sensitive to reach such a simplistic conclusion. Those opposed to the labelling of Korea as a slave society, for instance, point to the fact that some slaves were not always simply treated as chattel but as serfs who could potentially acquire a different social status. They also point to the fact that the rule for determining slave status tended to change over time. Focusing on the role that shifting economic conditions played in the shaping and reshaping of slavery as an institution, this talk will try to show how the wearing of economic chains by slaves could have been a reality that was as equally oppressive as, if not more than, the wearing of social, cultural, or perhaps even literal ones. The talk will also try to show how the chains of shifting economic winds continued to frame and sustain slavery as a institution in Korea. 

King Sejong the Great and the Cultural History of Weather, Religion, and Wealth in Early Chosŏn Korea

King Sejong (r. 1418-1450), whose much adored image is prominently displayed on Korea’s green-colored banknote and in the middle of Gwanghwamun Square, is often, if not always, remembered and celebrated for his role in the creation of the Korean alphabet, his passion for science, and his love for the common people. This image of the much beloved king, which developed under unique historical circumstances, obscures more than it reveals. Nationalistic efforts to paint King Sejong as an ideal Confucian monarch germinated during the colonial period and later gained steam after the fall of Korea’s first president Syngman Rhee in 1960. But, needless to say, King Sejong was more than just a caring benevolent Confucian monarch. Like many others who occupied the Chosŏn throne, Sejong was a complex figure who sought creative and politically expedient ways to address concerns that continued to trouble the relatively young Chosŏn dynasty. Extreme weather conditions, sharp population growth, shifting geopolitical winds, radical environmental transformations, and resistance to the state’s encroachment on private enterprise proved to be the greatest sources of concern. As Sejong and his predecessors knew well, these concerns could not be addressed without first addressing the so-called Buddhist problem. This talk will take a close look at the growing concerns about weather, religion, and wealth in Early Chosŏn Korea and shed new light on this oft-neglected aspect of Sejong and his reign.

The Hidden Door, the Unclimbable Stairs, and the Broken Lightbulb: A Cultural History of the City in Korea

The wild success enjoyed by Bong Joon Ho and his recent film Parasite (2019) and also Park Chan Wook and his vengeance trilogy Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002), Old Boy (2003), and Lady Vengeance (2005) can be attributed to a variety of different factors: creative storytelling, persuasive and powerful acting by a skillful cast, and the development of a distinctive mis-en-scène to name a few. But what also makes these films so enjoyable is arguably their ability to provide a way for the audience—a domestic and international audience—to vicariously experience the subtle tensions that quietly disturb the idealized image of the everyday in industrialized, urban Korea. What these tensions reveal is a complex society fraught with fissures created by, among other things, class conflict, police-state violence, racism, sexism, and split loyalties. To explain how this works, this talk will treat these and other related Korean films as palimpsests and show how doors, stairs, and even lightbulbs are hidden, exposed, and redefined to bring the unique experience of Korea as a city-written-over-a-city to life.

Juhn Ahn currently has the following number of speaking engagement opportunities available in his term on the NEAC DSB:

3 engagements between April 1, 2021 and March 31, 2022

3 engagements between April 1, 2022 and March 31 2023

Jinsoo An

August 1, 2020-March 31, 2023
Available for live virtual events

Jinsoo An is Associate Professor at the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures of the University of California, Berkeley. He received his doctoral degree from the Department of Film and Television of UCLA and subsequently taught at Hongik University in Seoul, South Korea before joining the faculty at UC Berkeley in 2012. His research interests encompass Korean film history, East Asian cinema, film genre, authorship, history and memory, film historiography, and film censorship. His articles have appeared in positions: asia critique, Journal of Korean Studies, Journal of Japanese and Korean Cinema, and China Review. His 2018 book, Parameters of Disavowal: Colonial Representation in South Korean Cinema, reassesses South Korea’s cinematic rendition of the colonial past as a particular type of knowledge production integral to the historic-cultural logic of the Cold War system. His current research focuses on South Korean cinema under authoritarianism and practices of film censorship during the 1970s.

Presentations offered by Professor An:

Stupendous Villainy in Recent Korean Popular Films

The continuing success of Korean films has garnered the interest of critics in the persistence of the popular genre form. Their appropriation of blockbuster aesthetics, reworking of narrative motifs and genre conventions, as well as the treatment of diverse subject matters, have all received keen critical attention. This presentation, however, explores a narrower element of Korean film’s popular appeal: the depiction of villainy. It explores the strange depth of antiheroes and psychopaths as a distinct aesthetic achievement and the result of recent popular cinema’s narrational prowess. Concurrently, it illuminates the configuration of the aberrant (e.g., the figure of the sociopath or psychopath) that focalizes a dimension of social life hitherto underexamined in other media representations. To be sure, numerous scholars have explored the topics of violence and evil that characterize the strong appeal of Korean film as “extreme” cinema. My presentation sets itself in dialogue with this preceding body of scholarship while also veering towards the narrational and aesthetic dimensions of such a configuration. The narrative techniques in formulating the archetype of the villain not only underscore the broad range and depth of new trends in popular filmmaking, but also call for new ways in conceptualizing the complex confluence of filmic representation, film spectatorship and the sociocultural forces that shape the appeal of Korean cinema, both domestically and internationally.

South Korean Cinema Under Authoritarianism

The 1970s has long been characterized as the nadir of South Korean cinema. Seized by the grip of an authoritarian regime and facing volatile changes within the broader film and media environment itself (such as the spread of television), South Korean cinema entered an extended period of decline that lasted until the 1980s. However, the 1970s also witnessed the birth of a wide array of unusual popular films, accompanied by similarly unique modes of production, consumption, and aesthetic features. This presentation brings attention to an oft-neglected decade of filmmaking in order to interrogate the complex relationship between authoritarian politics and popular films. In particular, this presentation will explore the proliferation of minor film genres, state sponsorship of the “superior film” (usu yŏnghwa in Korean) and its institutionalization, censorship controversies and their industrial repercussions, the rise of discourse on audio-visual media and its impact on the idea of film art, and the question of excessive violence in film aesthetics. This presentation thereby aims to offer a granular history of the tensions and negotiations that arose between the state apparatus and filmmaking personnel, as both interacted closely to make film popular and politically legitimate in the 1970s.

The Question of “Japan” in South Korean Cinema

This presentation offers an overview of one of the most contentious subjects of South Korean cinema: the legacy of colonialism and the question of Japan. From liberation in 1945 until 1997, South Korea maintained a “closed-door” policy towards Japan and outright banned the import of Japanese cinema. In the meantime, South Korea has consistently produced films that revisit the colonial past to promulgate anti-colonial nationalism on the screen. My presentation explores the controversies surrounding the import of waesaek yŏnghwa [literally, “Japanese-colored films”] of the mid-1960s. Set against the backdrop of the 1965 normalization of relations between Japan and Korea, the debate over waesaek yŏnghwa signals a serious challenge to the encroachment of Japanese cinema and visual imagery onto Korean screens. While tracing the convoluted contours of film exchanges between Japan and Korea during the 1960s, this talk also proceeds to highlight one of the era’s most popular film genres, the so-called “Manchurian action film,” which embodied the mandate to uphold the anti-colonial struggle and helped it gain distinct popular appeal. While South Korea’s Manchurian action films have received critical interest for their unique configuration of themes such as colonial history, nationalism, masculinity, geography and genre aesthetics, this presentation revisits the genre to instead interrogate the political economy of anti-colonial nationalism.

Jinsoo An currently has the following number of speaking engagement opportunities available in his term on the NEAC DSB:

2 engagements between April 1, 2021-March 31, 2022

2 engagements between April 1, 2022-March 31 2023

Valerie Gelezeau

Valérie Gelézeau

April 1, 2021-March 31, 2024
Available for live virtual events

Valérie Gelézeau is a Professor at the École des hautes études en sciences sociales (EHESS, Paris) and the director of the Centre for Studies on China, Korea and Japan (CNRS-EHESS-Université de Paris). A cultural geographer & Korean Studies specialist, working with a method she designates as “fieldwork micro-geography,” she is the author of several books addressing the various modalities of space as a social construct in Korea today. In Ap’at’ŭ konghwaguk (The Republic of Apartments, 2007), and Séoul, ville géante, cites radieuses (Séoul, giant cities, radiant cities, 2003), she interprets the development of apartment complexes as one of the main mediation in the fabric of Korean contemporary urban society. She interrogates the Korean capitality in Seoul, mégapole (Seoul, a megapolis, 2011) and more recently in Sŏrabŏl. Des capitales de la Corée (About Korean capital cities, 2018). With Koen De Ceuster (Leiden University) and Alain Delissen (EHESS), she edited De-bordering Korea: Tangible and intangible legacies of the Sunshine Policy (2013). Since 2018, she is the scientific coordinator of the project CITY-NKOR (City, architecture and urbanism in North Korea), a project funded by the French National Research Agency and partnering with the French School of Oriental Studies (EFEO) and Leiden University, which gave way to her latest book, edited with Benjamin Joinau (Hoingik University): Faire du terrain en Corée du Nord. Ecrire autrement les sciences sociales (Doing fieldwork in North Korea. A different way to write social sciences, 2018).

Presentations Offered by Professor Gelézeau:

Deciphering the Gangnamscape – Apartments and the Vertical City in South Korea

In 2012, PSY’s global hit “Gangnam Style” triggered a crazy world passion for a new and strange choreography on the Seoulite urban scene of prominently featured apartments. The horse dance globalized a “Gangnamscape,” in which high-rise housing disseminated a common image, more or less glamorous, of South Korean cities. This talk tries to elucidate this new expression of the “Republic of apartments” (Apat’ŭ konghwaguk), while analyzing its trajectory. Largely unknown to city-dwellers before the 1960s, large apartment complexes (ap’at’ŭ tanji) are now powerfully shaping the landscapes of contemporary South Korean cities. They are now memorialized by artists (from PSY to well-known photographers), planners, or citizen themselves. Apartments have been the main architectural mediation to the making of the South Korean modern urban society. They are still at the core of the material and immaterial city in South Korea. The lecture will discuss those issues, combining the perspectives of cultural geography and Korean studies and using ethnographic materials gathered on sites studied since the mid-1990s (in downtown Seoul) and new ones in the making (Songdo).

The Korean Meta-Nation and the Archipelago of Korean Capital Cities

How does the Korean case provide a powerful critique to the euro-centric approach of capital cities as a static and central product of rising nation-State? This talk discusses how the partition of the Korean peninsula since the mid-20th century reactivated the plurality of capital cities. Based on the analysis of geographical discourses (in Korean, English, and French), it offers a geo-historical discussion on “capitaless” in Korea and narrates the geo-historical trajectories of capital cities. The competition of political capitals is embodied in architecture and urban development both in Seoul and Pyongyang, while discourses on capitals of great historical Kingdoms were to legitimize divergent historical narrations—with material consequences on heritage policies, constructions, and management. Next to those great capitals of Korean geo-history (hyper-capitals of the present States, Pyongyang and Seoul, or legitimizing historical capital cities such as Kaesong and Kyŏngju), de-capitalized cities such as Suwŏn, forgotten or marginalized capitals, such as Puyo, or Kongju) form an archipelago of capitals. This archipelago of “hyper-capitals” and “shadow capitals,” scattered not only across the peninsula itself, but also connected to many capital cities of the Korean diaspora: from the North American diaspora’s Koreatown in Los Angeles to the Central Asian diaspora’s Almaty in Kazakhstan, draws the network of capitals of a complex and plural Korean meta-nation.

The Korean Meta-Border, Schizo-Koreanology, and the Cycles of Geopolitical Crisis in the Peninsula

How to explain the cyclic nature of the Korean crisis and the irresolution of the Korean question? This lecture discusses the question, starting from the locus of division itself, the border, and the perspective of social and cultural geography. Elaborating on the vast literature produced in South Korea about the pundan chej’e (the division system), as well as on personal research about the Korean border implemented since the mid-2000s, I argue that the partition of the peninsula is much more than a geopolitical fact happened in 1945. In the context of the armistice regime, the spatial border, far to be a static line or zone, is a front still in the making: it is to be considered as a permanent ongoing process that keeps creating more and more socio-spatial borders, new and multiple territorialities, within the two Koreas and far beyond the peninsula. As such, it keeps redefining profoundly the “Korean” identity(ies) and appears as the paragon of a “meta-border” (M. Foucher), a border that expands far beyond the place and time where it was originally inscribed. While those particular features of the border condition scientific perspectives on the study of “Korea” (a schizo-Koreaology), they also put at stake the cyclical nature of the inter-Korean relation, as well as the neither war nor peace geopolitical situation of the peninsula.

Beyond Fieldwork, a Field to Work : Theory, Praxis and Ethics for Researching (in) North Korea

What are the challenges of a scholar trying to do fieldwork in a closed and contained environment as North Korea, restricted internally by the totalitarian context and externally by the international sanctions? Is there merit, and even meaning, in pursuing research despite imposed restrictions on access to the terrain? How does this restricted access impact research findings and how does one account for them? While decades of discussion regarding the politics, praxis, and ethics of fieldwork have been engaged, those topics are rarely regarding studies in and about North Korea, where common and scientific knowledge usually considers impossible the practice of fieldwork. This talk proposes to address the internal contradiction of “doing fieldwork in North Korea,” by challenging a positivist view of what fieldwork is, as something external to be discovered and interpreted. Beyond fieldwork, recognizing a field to work is part of our scientific engagement as Korean studies specialists, who may want to include all dimension, complexities and pluralities of the Korean meta-nation in their research.

Valérie Gelézeau currently has the following number of speaking engagement opportunities remaining in her term on the NEAC DSB:

1 engagement between April 1, 2021 and March 31, 2022

2 engagements between April 1, 2022 and March 31, 2023

3 engagements between April 1, 2023 and March 31, 2024

Ju Hui Judy Han

August 26, 2020-August 25, 2023
Available for live virtual events

Ju Hui Judy Han is Assistant Professor of Gender Studies at UCLA. Her writings about mobility, religious politics, and queer and feminist activism have been published in Journal of Korean Studies, Scholar & Feminist OnlineGeoforumCritical Asian Studies, and positions: asia critique among others, as well as in several edited books including Territories of Poverty: Rethinking North and South (2015) and Ethnographies of U.S. Empire (2018). She has extensive experience with delivering accessible, media-rich presentations to scholarly, activist, and arts audiences. She has a Ph.D. in Geography from UC Berkeley and has previously taught at the University of Toronto.

Presentations offered by Professor Han:

Not Now, Not Yet: the Politics of Postponement and LGBTQ+ Activism in Korea

Whether referred to as “LGBTQ+” in coalitional terms of identity or as “sexual minority” to emphasize relations of power and marginalization, non-normative gender and sexual formations in South Korea have certainly become more visible—and contentious—than ever before. In recent years, LGBTQ activists have confronted intensified anti-LGBTQ backlash such as the organized opposition against the annual Queer Festival (Pride). But they also face deep-seated heterosexism and patriarchy in liberal and mainstream social movements. Contemporary LGBTQ politics in South Korea in fact involve challenges from both conservative and liberal camps. This lecture presents a brief history of LGBTQ activism in South Korea, highlighting moments of political upheaval and grassroots social movements that grapple with these challenges. I discuss how anti-LGBTQ conservatives continue to block equal rights protection and anti-discrimination laws altogether while many liberal politicians maintain a reluctance to fully embrace LGBTQ rights as fundamental human rights. There are important differences. Whereas conservatives portray LGBTQ rights as simply intolerable and permanently impossible, liberals often assert that LGBTQ rights are premature and that it is “not yet” the right time in Korea. What does it mean to be considered untimely or out of place in time? What does such politics of postponement tell us about progress and neoliberal democracy?

Beyond Mass Rallies and Candlelight Protests: Protest Repertoires in Precarious Times

The Candlelight Protests in South Korea in 2016-17 succeeded in achieving what had seemed impossible—ousting the conservative President for corruption and abuse of power and installing a new, more liberal government. In a triumphant view, the Candlelight Protests were credited for drawing from the historical legacies of pro-democracy movements and reinvigorating forms of decentralized collective action, demonstrating in a spectacular way the will of the people and the power of peaceful mass mobilization. This lecture complicates this depiction. Beyond spectacular mass rallies like the Candlelight Protests, I discuss a more diverse and sometimes more radical set of protest repertoires engaged by striking workers, queer/trans activists, religious leaders, and activists who offer remarkable stories of inequality, creative resistance, and resilience. These repertoires include indefinite hunger strikes, public head shaving ceremonies, long-term tent encampments, high-rise occupations of billboards and construction cranes, one-person protests, Buddhist prostration processions, and religious worship services in public spaces. Who performs these protests and to what end? What is accomplished by them and what are the critiques?

The Queer Thresholds of Heresy

Disputes over heresy are not new or uncommon, as mainline Protestant denominations in South Korea have historically deemed numerous minor sects and radical theologies to be heretical to the Christian faith. However, when the largest evangelical denomination in the country, the Presbyterian Church in Korea (Hapdong), began investigating Reverend Lim Borah in 2017 and subsequently ruled her ministry to be heretical, they charted new grounds by denouncing LGBTI-affirming theology and ministry as heresy. Since then, a number of seminary students and clergy have found themselves in trouble with the institutional authorities of their schools and denominations. This talk traces the semantic ambiguity and politics of the term for heresy, idan, and discusses the intersection of heretical Christianity, gender and sexual nonconformity, and ideological dissidence. What becomes clear is that growing interests in queer theology and calls for LGBTI-affirming ministry have in turn provoked beleaguered Protestant denominations to use heresy to discredit and stigmatize dissident practices. Rather than simply stifle dissent, however, heresy controversies also expose the limits of dominant power and reveal the contours of vital resistance.

A Contentious History of Feminisms in Korea

Feminist politics in Korea today is a complex and diverse terrain, consisting of multiple genealogies and sometimes contrasting ideologies. For instance, feminists who began organizing mass protests in 2016 against misogyny and violence—especially after the so-called Gangnam Station murder and spycam scandals—are somewhat different in composition and political character from women workers organizing unions to fight workplace discrimination or queer activists who worked to decriminalize abortion in early 2019. The #MeToo movement that has exposed pervasive sexual violence in schools, churches, the arts, and in government has not always drawn clear connections to the transnational movements for justice for former “comfort women.” In a stark example of divergent feminisms, some feminists fought to protect the admission of a transgender student at a women’s university while others joined an effort to deny asylum to Yemeni refugees in Korea with a rhetoric that they are mostly young cisgender heterosexual men who might commit gender-based crimes against Korean women. The question is not whether one brand of feminism is more true or radical, young or old. Rather, I tease out in this talk the politics of difference and questions of intersectionality at work in these contentious political moments and spaces.

Eleana Kim

Eleana J. Kim

April 1, 2021-March 31, 2024
Available for recorded or live virtual events, or webinars

Eleana J. Kim is a sociocultural anthropologist whose research interests include kinship and relatedness, transpacific and (trans)national circulations, more-than-human ecologies, and categories of nature and culture as they are made and unmade through social practice. She is the author of Adopted Territory: Transnational Korean Adoptees and the Politics of Belonging (Duke University Press, 2010), which was awarded the James B. Palais Prize in Korean Studies from the Association for Asian Studies, and the Social Science Book Award from the Association for Asian American Studies, both in 2012. Her second book, De/Militarized Ecologies: Making Peace with Nature Along the Korean DMZ, is forthcoming from Duke University Press. Her essays have appeared in journals including Cultural AnthropologyJournal of Korean StudiesAnthropological QuarterlySocial TextAdoption & Culture, and edited volumes including The Cambridge Handbook for the Anthropology of Kinship and Ethnographies of U.S. Empire. Her research has been supported by the Korea Foundation, the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, the Social Science Research Council, and the American Council of Learned Societies. She received her B.A. in English Literature from Brown University and her Ph.D. in Anthropology from New York University. She is an associate professor in the Anthropology Department and affiliated faculty of the Asian American Studies Department at University of California, Irvine and is president-elect of the Society for Cultural Anthropology.

Photo credit: Nicola Kountoupes

Presentations Offered by Professor Kim:

Adoptions from South Korea: How an Emergency Situation Became a Permanent Solution

South Korea holds the dubious distinction of having sent more children for adoption to foreign nations than any other country in the world. The international adoption of children first began in the aftermath of WWII, when orphans from war-ravaged Germany, Japan, Greece, and other nations relied upon the charity of extended kin or strangers to care for abandoned children. South Korean adoptions began under the same premise, namely, that an emergency situation of war orphans and mixed-race children, appearing in the context of foreign military occupation, required a drastic solution. Once the nation had stabilized in the postwar period, however, rather than ending these child migrations, the South Korean state institutionalized adoption as part of its welfare system. By the 1970s, it provided a model for other developing nations which were also struggling with overpopulation and a lack of social welfare programs. From an emergency measure for war orphans, adoption had become a solution for dealing with excess population—namely, children born to unwed mothers or poor families. Justified by an ideology of the “best interests of the child,” adoptions were also a ready source of foreign currency and an expedient mode of building goodwill with powerful, western nations. This talk provides a critical analysis Korean adoption history in order to illuminate the relationship between transnational adoption of children and the past seventy years of South Korean modernity, paying close attention to the contexts of Cold War geopolitics, global capitalism, and heteronormative, gendered family values. The more than 200,000 adopted Koreans around the world now constitute a sizable part of the Korean diaspora, and this talk concludes with a discussion of how adult adopted Koreans have not only problematized but also radically shifted hegemonic discourses that have long framed adoption as inherently good.

Cold War’s Nature: The Korean Demilitarized Zone and Mid-Century American Science

Since the early 2000s, international media coverage of the Korean peninsula has frequently included stories about the rare and endangered species that live in the DMZ, a buffer area borne out of the Korean War. This “accidental” natural sanctuary is framed in mythical terms––an ecological paradise blossoming out of unending war and symbolizing nature’s resilience. Drawing on the Smithsonian Institution archives and South Korean sources, this talk offers a critical, transpacific history of the DMZ’s ecology, tracing its origins to the mid-1960s, when a network of U.S. conservationists and Smithsonian ecologists first identified and constructed it as an “outdoor laboratory” within the emerging paradigm of “ecosystem science.” The DMZ’s ecology is an example of what I call “Cold War’s nature,” entangled within and reproductive of American scientific and political exceptionalism during a period of rising environmental awareness and expanding U.S. military empire. The DMZ area has since proven to be less of a “baseline” than a fragile refuge where ongoing militarization and incursions of capital are threatening actually existing life forms. I conclude by drawing upon ethnographic research on human-nonhuman assemblages in the DMZ area to ask what theoretical and political possibilities might be offered by extending the study of “Cold War afterlives” to include multispecies worlds. 

In the Meantime of Division: Multispecies Encounters in the Korean DMZ

This talk discusses the ecological transformations, cultural discourses, and transnational connections that, since the end of the Cold War, have contributed to the symbolic transformation of the DMZ from a scar of fratricidal war to a green belt representing biodiversity and peace. South Korean state discourses in particular began to celebrate the DMZ as the “land of peace and life” in order to promote the DMZ region, which includes rural areas immediately south of the DMZ, as sites of natural renaissance and tourism development. I discuss how the unending Korean War and the waxing and waning of interKorean détente have conditioned a temporality in South Korea that I call “the meantime of division.” In the hybrid civilian-military border areas close to the DMZ, national security and capitalism exist in tension, particularly for local people who have for decades been left out of the nation’s rapid economic development. With the transformation of the DMZ from a forbidden zone into a new frontier of possibilities, largely related to its ecological renaissance, border areas have become sites for new contestations and encounters among various parties, including farmers, local environmentalists, urban activists and intellectuals, and more-than-human entities. I examine how the DMZ’s “nature” is produced as valuable—ecologically and economically—and how it is becoming newly political in South Korea, drawing upon examples from my fieldwork, including migratory birds, land mines, and small irrigation ponds. In conclusion, I ask how a focus on these multispecies worlds may defamiliarize conventional discourses of national division, future unification, and peace.

Eleana Kim currently has the following number of speaking engagement opportunities remaining in her term on the NEAC DSB:

3 engagements between April 1, 2021 and March 31, 2022

3 engagements between April 1, 2022 and March 31, 2023

3 engagements between April 1, 2023 and March 31, 2024

Kyung Hyun Kim

April 1, 2019-March 31, 2022
Available for recorded or live virtual events, or webinars

Kyung Hyun Kim serves as a professor in the Department of East Asian Studies, UC Irvine. He received his B.A. (East Asian Studies and Politics) from Oberlin College, and his Ph.D. from Cinema Studies at USC. He is a novelist, scholar, and film producer. He is author of Virtual Hallyu: Korean Cinema of the Global Era (2011), The Remasculinization of Korean Cinema (2004), and a Korean-language novel entitled In Search of Lost G (Ireo beorin G-rul chajaso, 2014). He has coproduced two award-winning feature films, Never Forever (2007) and The Housemaid (2010). Currently completing his book monograph entitled Hegemonic Mimicry: Korean Popular Culture of the 21st Century, and a film project entitled Killing Men set in Jeju Island Massacre of 1948, he, with Yourim Lee, received the 2018 KOFIC Award for Best Movie Concept Development. He has held visiting teaching appointments at Seoul National University, Yonsei University, Korea University, KAIST, and UCLA.

Presentations Offered by Professor Kim:

South Korean Cinema’s Success in the Digital Age: Seen Through Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite

Recent zombie movies or streaming dramas set in Korea, such as Train to Busan or the Netflix drama Kingdom, have become popular through the metaphor of stench that communicates fear and insecurity over disposable lives that must be excluded and therefore unseen in order for capitalism to continue its mission. Capitalism’s hygienic sensitivity is extremely high; one simply cannot expect to sell products very well in filthy conditions. Unlike these or other American horror films such as Jordan Peele’s Us that only permit viewers to cinematically imagine today’s growing job insecurity through fantasy genre, the 2020 Academy Award-winner Parasite depicts the growing fear of the poor and the parasitic unfiltered. This talk will probe why Korean cinema’s success over the past twenty years is unparalleled in the history of global cinema, and how Bong Joon-ho’s films are uniquely positioned to excel both in Korea and elsewhere in the world.

Becoming-Black: Korean Hip-hop at the Age of Hallyu

This talk examines the emergence of hip-hop in contemporary South Korea. Drawing on Achille Mbembe’s idea of “becoming black,” it proceeds from the view of hip-hop as a worldwide phenomenon made possible by the fact that “blackness” has gained a “new fungibility” in the epoch of global capitalism. It explores the ways in which hip-hop performers in South Korea draw on their own experiences of social marginality in the ghetto-like world produced by unrelenting academic and economic competition to create their work. It also considers the ways in which the Korean language obliges rappers to experiment with its syntax and prosody in order to generate the rhymes and repetitions associated with the hip-hop genre. While rap in the South Korean context is often regarded as a successful adaptation of a foreign musical genre, in a manner that recalls the discovery and mastery of Western popular music by Korean musicians in the years following the Korean War, the talk also argues that the reception of hip-hop in the present reestablishes ties to premodern and pre-colonial practices of oral musical storytelling, such as p’ansori, that were neglected and overlooked during the period of modernization.

Post-Trauma, Korean War, and Cinema

Every Korean War film made during the era of Korean blockbusters, which also roughly overlaps with South Korea’s Sunshine Policy era (Haetpyŏt chŏngch’aek, 1999–2008), searches for a tone of post–Cold War entity, articulating within itself a critique of previous anti-communist ideological positions from which Korean military dictatorships were carved out. The Front Line (Kojijon, Jang Hun, 2011), Welcome to Dongmakgol (Welk’ŏm T’u Tongmakkol, Pak Kwanghyŏn, 2005), and even Taeguki: The Brotherhood of War (T’aegŭkki Hwinallimyŏ, Kang Je-gyu, 2004), all embrace humanist values that problematize the senseless killings and the subsequent division between North and South that pits one other against irreconcilable enmities. In all three films, North Koreans are depicted not just as villainous killers but also as traumatized estranged brothers or friends who are sick of fighting a war that is endless and unproductive. This talk will analyze various critical thematic element that are unequivocally reclaimed in these commercial films that focus on the Korean War as the rejuvenation of a rational sense of manhood and a reclamation of minjok-ian nation-hood.

Samsung Electronics and K-pop

Within just a decade, acres of corn fields that traditionally sat in the outskirts of Suwon were converted into perhaps the world’s most lucrative Silicon Valley built outside of Northern California. Suwon and its satellite cities, such as Yongin and Pyeongtaek, now boast headquarter offices and assembly lines where semi-conductors of Samsung Electronics—the pride and joy of the export-oriented Korean economy—are churned out. Though very little geographical foundation is shared between these electronic plants and K-pop music studios, which are mainly housed in Gangnam (about 30 miles north of Suwon), there are still many common aspects shared between the two. Both Samsung and K-pop are secretive and private—despite the global visibility—in its production, perfects its products through hard-work and dedication rather than choosing to innovate or revolutionize the products that they sell, display strong disdain toward defects and flawed mechanisms, and known to cater excellent services to their customers. Are the commonalities shared between perhaps two best known brands of Korea over the past several decades a mere coincidence or is there an overarching issue that bind the two? This talk will provide anecdotes, observations, and insights into contemporary Korean culture and society that attempt to analyze both Korea’s success and failure at grappling with a post-national global subjectivity.

Kyung Hyun Kim currently has the following number of speaking engagement opportunities remaining in his term on the NEAC DSB:

3 engagements between April 1, 2021 and March 31, 2022

Mitchell Lerner

April 1, 2019-March 31, 2022
Available for live virtual events

Mitch Lerner is Professor of History and Director of the East Asian Studies Center at The Ohio State University, where his scholarly focus is on Korean-American international relations and security policy. He has held the Mary Ball Washington Distinguished Fulbright Chair at University College-Dublin, and been a fellow at the Miller Center for Public Affairs at the University of Virginia. Currently, he is associate editor of the Journal of American-East Asian Relations and a senior advisor to the North Korea International Documentation Project at the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars. His first book, The Pueblo Incident (Kansas, 2004), won the John Lyman Book Award, and was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. He has also published three edited collections on politics and international relations, and more than a dozen articles in journals such as Diplomacy & Statecraft; the Journal of East Asian Affairs; Diplomatic History; the Seoul Journal of Korean Studies; and the Journal of Military History. He has also published op-eds in media outlets such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Korea Times, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Hill, the Diplomat, the National Interest, and more. In 2005, he won the OSU Alumni Association Distinguished Teaching Award, the university’s highest teaching honor, and in 2017 he won the Ohio Academy of History Distinguished Teaching Prize.

Presentations Offered by Professor Lerner:

Understanding North Korea

Former Vice-President Walter Mondale once commented that “Anyone who claims to be an expert on North Korea is either a liar or a fool.” This talk aspires not to turn the audience members into experts but instead to provide them with an introductory-level overview of contemporary North Korea. Best suited for undergraduates and local community members, it delves into aspects of the nation’s recent history, politics, international relations, and society. Along the way, it addresses such topics as the division of the peninsula; the Kim family and the cult of personality; the influence of China on the DPRK; North Korean involvement in money laundering and counterfeiting efforts, the international weapons trade, drug production, and, of course, the current nuclear crisis, among other topics.

The Second Korean War

January 1968 was perhaps the most dangerous month on the Korean Peninsula since the end of the Korean War. On January 23, North Korean forces attacked the American spy ship USS Pueblo while it operated in the East Sea, an event that left one American sailor dead and eighty-two others held captive in North Korean prison camps. Earlier that month, a group of 31 DPRK soldiers crossed the DMZ on a mission to assassinate ROK President Park Chung Hee that narrowly missed, and which culminated in a series of gun battles in and around Seoul. “Few people,” recalled one American general in the wake of the attempt, “realize how close we came to war.” Less dramatic but equally troubling signs of increased North Korean belligerency could be found well before these two events, however. In 1966, military incidents along the DMZ had caused just 42 American and South Korean casualties; the first nine months of 1967 saw the number rise to almost 300. “Never,” wrote the East German Ambassador to North Korea as that year drew to a close, “since the end of the Korean War, have there been so many and such severe incidents at the armistice line as in 1967.” This talk makes use of recently released materials from both the US and the former communist bloc nations to offer a detailed look into these crisis years from both sides of the Cold War divide, and to offer an explanation for DPRK belligerency that puts domestic imperatives within North Korea at the heart of the story.

The Korean War and the American Civil Rights Movement

This talk examines the legacy of the Korean War on American society, with a particular focus on the relationship between the war and the African American struggle for civil rights. It suggests that the experiences of African American soldiers assigned to fight in Korea played a significant role in pushing the civil rights movement in a more confrontational direction, and was thus a critical moment in the long history of this struggle. The audience will thus be introduced to the experiences of African American soldiers from the training camps in the deep South to the battlefields of the Korean Peninsula, to see how the exigencies of the Korean War exacerbated the contradictions between the rhetoric of fighting a war on behalf of Korean freedom, and the realities of domestic life for African Americans.

Mitch Lerner currently has the following number of speaking engagement opportunities remaining in his term on the NEAC DSB:

3 engagements between April 1, 2021 and March 31, 2022

Jin Y. Park

April 1, 2019-March 31, 2022
Available for recorded or live virtual events, or webinars

Jin Y. Park is Professor of Philosophy and Religion and Founding Director of Asian Studies Program at American University. Park specializes in Korean Buddhism (especially Zen/Sŏn and Huayan/Hwaŏm Buddhism), modern Korean philosophy, philosophy and gender, Buddhist ethics, and Buddhist-postmodern comparative philosophy. Park employs Buddhist tradition to engage with contemporary issues with a special focus on gender, justice, and ethics. Park’s research on modern Korean Buddhist philosophy examines the dawn of philosophy in Korea and the East-West encounter in that context. Park has served on the Board of Directors at the American Academy of Religion. She has published numerous articles on Buddhist philosophy, Korean Buddhism, modern Korean philosophy, Buddhist-postmodern ethics, and gender and justice. Her books include Women and Buddhist Philosophy: Engaging Zen Master Kim Iryŏp (2017); Reflections of a Zen Buddhist Nun: Essays by Zen Master Kim Iryŏp (2014); Makers of Modern Korean Buddhism (2010); Merleau-Ponty and Buddhism (co-edited, 2009); Buddhism and Postmodernity: Zen, Huayan, and the Possibility of Buddhist Postmodern Ethics (2008), and Buddhisms and Deconstructions (2006). Park received her BA at Yonsei University, MA at New York University and Ph.D. at the State University of New York at Stony Brook.

Presentations offered by Professor Park:

Women and Buddhism: The Case of Kim Iryŏp

Is women’s experience of Buddhism different from their male counterparts? Can Buddhism give new directions for women’s search for identity and the meaning of existence? Or, to put it broadly, why and how do women engage with Buddhism? These are some of major questions that I aim to address in this presentation. To this end, I will explore the life and thoughts of the twentieth-century Korean Zen Master, Kim Iryŏp (1896-1971). A daughter of Christian parents, Iryŏp was a first-generation Korean feminist and writer who became a Zen Buddhist nun. In a Confucian patriarchal Korean society in the early twentieth century, Iryŏp actively engaged with women’s movements, as a new woman, demanding changes in Korean society, publicly bringing up the sensitive issues of woman’s sexuality and freedom. As she turns from a social activist to a religious thinker, Iryŏp finds Buddhist teaching to be the foundation of woman’s liberation. Looking closer, we find a multi-layered encounter between women and Buddhism in her life and writings. We will shed light on the meaning of autobiography, narrative identity, writing as testimony, and meaning construction in our daily existence, as well as Iryŏp’s journey to find women’s identity and freedom through Buddhist philosophy.

State Violence and Korean Buddhist Social Engagement

Since the beginning of its tradition, Korean Buddhism has been collaborating with royal families and the state. Even in modern times, Buddhist engagement with the social, political, and historical reality of Korea remained unsatisfactory compared to other religions. The state violence against Buddhism during the 1980s opened the eyes of some Korean Buddhists and a new Buddhist social movement emerged. Known as Minjung Buddhism, the movement offers us a possibility for a form for Buddhist social engagement and also its limitations. This presentation examines the history, theory, and reality of Buddhist social engagement in Korea. Among the topics to which we pay special attention are the reality of state violence, the meaning of the “people” and the people’s capacity to challenge state violence, and religion’s role in that context.

Repertoires of Practice: Religions in Korea

What is the role of religion in this secular world? What is its influence on the construction of Korean ideologies and also on the daily life of Korean people? Along with modernization, Korean society has raced to adopt Western ideas and lifestyles. Traditions were considered as things that needed to be removed in order for Korea to move forward to a modern advanced society. The religious and thought traditions of a society, however, do not disappear easily. Looking closely, we see that traditional ideas still have a strong influence on Korean people’s ways of thinking and their daily lives. This presentation considers the actions of and reactions to major religious traditions in contemporary Korea. Topics to discuss in this context include: Confucianism and democracy, Buddhism and gender, the role of Shamanism in contemporary Korean society, and Christianity and religiosity in Korea.

Philosophizing and Power: East-West Encounter in the Formation of Buddhist Philosophy in Modern Korea and Japan

Philosophy claims its goal is to search for truth. The history of philosophy, however, demonstrates that the search for truth is not free from the power structures of the time. The formation of modern philosophy in East Asia is no exception. The discipline “philosophy” came to East Asia along with the influx of the Western culture in the mid-19th century. In that milieu, Asian intellects struggled to find their identity, value their traditions, and at the same time adopt the newly introduced civilization of the West. In this presentation, I will consider how the East-West power imbalance at the beginning of the modern period is implicitly and explicitly embedded in the formation of modern Buddhist philosophy in East Asia. Through a comparative study of the cases from the Korean thinker Paek Sŏnguk (白性郁, 1897-1981) and the Japanese thinker, Inoue Enryō (井上円了, 1858-1919), this presentation considers questions including: What are the implications of this historical “beginning” of modern philosophy in the West’s marginalization of Asian thought systems? How does this context of modernity influence the way philosophy has shaped itself in Asia? And what does the shaping of modern Buddhist philosophy tell us about the relationship between philosophizing, historical context, and the power dynamics of the time?

Jin Y. Park currently has the following number of speaking engagement opportunities remaining in her term on the NEAC DSB:

2 engagements between April 1, 2021 and March 31, 2022

Dafna Zur

April 1, 2020-March 31, 2023
Available for live virtual events

Dafna Zur is an Associate Professor in the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures at Stanford University. She teaches courses on Korean literature, cinema, and popular culture. Her book, Figuring Korean Futures: Children’s Literature in Modern Korea (Stanford University Press, 2017), traces the affective investments and coded aspirations made possible by children’s literature in colonial and postcolonial Korea. She is working on a new project on moral education in science and literary youth magazines in postwar North and South Korea. She has published articles on North Korean science fiction, the Korean War in North and South Korean children’s literature, childhood in cinema, and Korean popular culture. Her translations of Korean fiction have appeared in, The Columbia Anthology of Modern Korean Short Stories, and the Asia Literary Review.

Presentations offered by Professor Zur:

The Story of Data: Science and Fiction in North and South Korea

Postwar Korean was shaped to a large extent by cold war ideologies. On both sides of the 38th parallel, ideological positions were determined, asserted and disseminated to the general public through a diverse range of media. And of these, children’s periodicals were perceived as particularly effective in molding the inner worlds of future generations and aligning them with the hegemonic anti-imperialist discourses of the postwar era. Perhaps less obvious is the role that science played in the formation of ideological identities in postwar North and South Korea. Much in the spirit the technical and scientific magazines circulating on both sides of the Iron Curtain, North and South Korean writers celebrated the advancement of science and technology and accorded to these developments great optimism. Even while the Korean people were struggling to recover from the devastation of the Korean War, both North and South Koreans delighted in the promise of atomic energy and long-range missiles to deliver limitless sources of energy for development for the ultimate purpose: forging a social and scientific utopia.

Scientific knowledge figured into children’s magazines as more than just numbers, formulas, and hard data. Writers of poetry and fiction grappled with the question of how to convey the lessons taught by science in their creative works. Their response was to insist on a mode of thought and language derived from science, namely: the execution of scientific (i.e. objective and rational) observation, and the insistence that fiction describe only scientifically proven phenomena. Poets demanded that children’s songs (tongyo) derive their inspiration from nature as the most appropriate channel for the poetic spirit (sisim). My talk explores the negotiation of science and fiction in postwar North Korea to illuminate not only political and ideological agendas, but to demonstrate that the nuts and bolts of science relied on modes of storytelling that necessitated, at the same time, the effacement of these modes in a process of what I call “the story of data.”

Anne Frank in North Korea and the Politics of Self-Writing

After the division of the Korean peninsula in 1945, foreign children’s literature was central to the development of North Korea’s burgeoning literary field. Translations of Soviet, Chinese, and other Communist Bloc fiction were featured regularly in the periodical Children’s Literature (Adong Munhak) in the first two decades after the Korean War. By the 1980s, however, translations all but disappeared from the pages of the children’s magazine with very few exceptions, among them The Diary of Anne Frank. The North Korean translation of Anne’s diary was published in fourteen installments by Children’s Literature between July 2002 and February 2004; it was also published in book form by educational publisher Kyoyuk tosŏ ch’ulp’ansa in 2002. Coming on the heels of North Korea’s disastrous famine, the decision to translate Anne Frank’s diary was likely driven by the need for the state, which was in the throes of extreme isolation and humanitarian crisis, to provide its young readers with models of resilience and perseverance, while ascribing food shortages and political isolation to abstract fascist forces (and attributing the less appealing aspects of the diary to the “inevitable shortcomings of a teenage capitalist”). But while the translator’s choices betray his ideological proclivities, the translation is surprising in two ways. First, it demonstrates that the North Korean literary establishment, even at its points of greatest isolation, was part of a global circulation of texts. Second, a close examination of the diary reveals places where, despite the translator’s best efforts, the text exposes itself to the possibility of multiple readings that run contrary to state ideology. Ultimately, I interrogate the extent to which the diary form—which is commonly used in North Korea and is obliquely related to practices of self-writing as self-surveillance—can reveal the individual’s most truthful, political, self. I question the extent to which various forms of self-writing signal their truth-stakes, and bring into focus the broader structural and institutional frames that both make and limit the extent of these truths.

Music and Children’s Poetry in Early Modern Korea

The appearance of the magazine Ǒrini in 1923 marked the beginning of new era of literary publications in Korea, one designed specifically for an audience of young readers. Ǒrini reflects the convictions of its editors, contributors, and children’s rights activists about the connection between literature and children’s emotional development. Children’s emotions were seen as a central target of reform in this period, and literature, particularly children’s poetry (called tongyo and tongsi), was considered a powerful conduit of this reform. In this talk, I draw links between the discourse around kamjŏng kyoyuk (emotional education) that circulated in print media of the time and the poetry and music that was supposed to facilitate this so-called emotional reform. The discourse around the modernizing force of emotional education through poetry and music brings to light the transnational aspects of the interest in children’s emotions in this period. At the same time, I explore the competing stakes in emotional reform on the Korean peninsula, particularly coming from the Ch’ŏndogyo, Buddhist, and Christian institutions, to uncover the moral underpinnings of children’s literature in the early twentieth century.

Dafna Zur currently has the following number of speaking engagement opportunities available in her term on the NEAC DSB:

3 engagements between April 1, 2021 and March 31, 2022

3 engagements between April 1, 2022 and March 31 2023